Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder by the Book: The Murder of Karyn Slover

The Trial

The trial for the murder of Karyn Hearn Slover began in 2002, five and a half years after the crime. Given the explosive nature of the crime and the potential outcome, jury selection was expected to take several weeks because Judge John K. Greanias denied a change of venue to move it out of Macon County. A sociologist surveyed 181 eligible jurors in the area and found that pretrial publicity had potentially tainted the jury pool: more than 91% of those surveyed said they had heard or read about the case in media accounts. This would become the basis of a later appeal.

Assistant State's Attorney Jack Aloha
Assistant State's Attorney Jack Aloha
The prosecution's case rested on specific items of physical evidence and a collection of circumstances. Assistant State's Attorney Jack Aloha presented it thus: Karyn had been planning to leave the state with her child to start a new life following her divorce from Michael Slover Jr. Supposedly, this had upset him and his parents, who had sought control over the child. Therefore, they lured her to the car lot, shot her, and dismembered her there, dumping her remains in the lake. The two buttons indicated that she had been at the car lot on the day she disappeared, and the cinders in her boyfriend's abandoned car, as well as those found with her body parts, confirmed it. Dog hairs taken from the duct tape on the bags were also a DNA match to a dog owned by the Slovers.

Also confirming this theory was the reportedly contentious relationship between Karyn and her in-laws, and the fact that Michael Slover Sr. could describe his cache of firearms in great detail, except for a .22 handgun that was missing. In addition, Michael Slover Jr. and his sister, Mary, had moved to Tennessee to curtail visitation rights for the Hearns. Co-workers of Mary's testified that Mary had wished Karyn would die, because she thought Karyn was not a fit mother. She had even admitted to a grand jury, according to the Pantagraph, that she had made a statement to the effect that she hoped skin cancer would "eat her face off." Michael Slover Jr., too, had allegedly made a threat: if she ever left him, she would never see her son again.

Prosecutors believed, based on the boy's sessions with a psychiatrist, that he had been in the building in which his mother was dismembered while the dismemberment was occurring. He had been too young to understand, but it had deeply affected him.

Defense attorney Joe Vigneri had a simpler case. "When it's all over but the shouting," he said, "you're going to be left with the same question you came here with: Who killed Karyn Slover?"

"You can't convict because of cinders," added Jeanette Slover's defense attorney, Mike Costello, "you can't convict because of consistency and dog hairs."

Weakening the prosecution's case were the facts that the murder weapon was never found, there were no witnesses, and they had no blood or DNA evidence placing Karyn at the car lot. They also could not locate any power saw that might have been used to dismember her, and they could not say definitely which of the defendants had done what.

Still, they had a strong witness in the forensic geologist, Richard Munroe. He said that the mineral content of the concrete at the car lot was consistent with that used to weigh down the body parts. He also noted that a piece of concrete at the car lot had trowel marks on it that were similar to those on the concrete with the body. The defense had its own expert, Raymond Murray, who was ready to contradict Munroe, but he was not allowed to testify.

The analysis of DNA used to match a dog to the key strand of dog hair was a first for the state of Illinois (and the fifth court procedure involving it in the country). Joy Halverson took the stand to describe her findings. The likelihood of a match with a randomly chosen dog, she said, was 1 in 56,000. She concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the hair could have come from any dog but the one the Slovers owned.

Defense attorneys argued that the research was experimental, the database was too small, and that this type of analysis had not yet been subject to peer review. Thus, it was not solid science. (One does wonder why investigators did not go back for more strands of hair to strengthen the case.) In addition, there were other reasons why a dog hair from the Slovers' dog could have been on the duct tape, e.g., transfer from Karyn or her son to her car, which did not incriminate the Slovers.

(Some jury members would say afterward they had found the dog hair testimony problematic, and indeed, since there was so much inbreeding with dogs, it was harder to make an exclusive match.)

The button evidence seemed strong, although the defense attorneys argued that the perpetrator could have planted it when the lot was unsecured, in the hope of framing the defendants. Nevertheless, the investigators' difficulty in finding these items tended to undermine the proposition that they had been planted. Someone attempting to frame the defendants would likely have made the items much more obvious.

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